Aruba’s turquoise waters and white-sand beaches draw plenty to its pristine shores—and often, not far beyond them. However, one would be remiss not to venture beyond the tiny Dutch Caribbean island’s flashy casinos, chain restaurants, and designer shopping malls to seek out a taste of what truly makes Aruba distinct. Here, we offer a few recommendations on how to kick-start your discovery of Aruba—an ideal balance of pampering and play.
Where to Eat
While most fine dining establishments on the island favour French or Italian cuisine, chef Urvin Croes of the Kitchen Table by White has created a culinary experience that puts Aruban-Caribbean ingredients in the spotlight.
Dinner begins not in the dining room, but above it. Guests start the evening with a cocktail on the roof of the restaurant against a postcard-perfect backdrop of Eagle Beach, renowned for being one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful stretches of sand. After watching the sun disappear in a blaze of orange, pink, and purple, it’s time to take a seat at the U-shaped bar surrounding the restaurant’s open kitchen. Seatings are limited to 16, so meals feel intimate and special even before the plates arrive. When they do, however, prepare to be amazed. Dishes are ever-changing, but always a delight for the palate and the eyes. A sampling may include Cajun beef with pickled bunashimeji mushrooms and a roasted bell pepper sauce; Caribbean corn chowder with the featured ingredient prepared several different ways (glazed, dusted, foamed, fried, and popped); or pan-fried scallops in a curry coconut sauce topped with seaweed chips.
Amidst the island’s many fast-food outposts and tourist-friendly eateries, Chef Croes and his team are helping to define and evolve Aruban cuisine to have its own distinct identity. The opportunity to dine at his kitchen table and bear witness to this journey is unparalleled.
Where to Explore
While Aruba boasts serene, manicured beaches, it also has a wild side. The adventurous can discover this from behind the wheel of a UTV on a tour with De Palm Tours. Goggles and bandanas are a must for this exhilarating, albeit dusty, ride. (The company also has open-air vehicles for those who prefer a little less action.)
The 4.5-hour route snakes through Arikok National Park, a 32-square-kilometre region that makes up nearly 20 per cent of the island. The park is characterized by arid desert plains dominated by the native cadushi cactus and ancient rock formations inhabited by wild goats. A winding path will lead you through the cacti until you reach craggy oceanside cliffs, a natural rock formation swimming pool, and the onyx-coloured shores of Black Stone Beach. Formed from volcanic rock, this is the island’s only black-sand beach. Also along the route is the Natural Bridge, another of Aruba’s geological feats. The giant archway, formed from an ancient coral limestone cave, collapsed in 2005, but visitors still come to see the rubbled remains and are rewarded with the sweeping ocean views that remain today.
Where to Stay
Located at Palm Beach is the Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, a five-star, 320-key hotel that embodies both posh beach living and cultural discovery. While you may be tempted to spend all day sipping cocktails in a private beach cabana, the Ritz-Carlton offers curated itineraries highlighting the island’s top cultural and culinary experiences. The Island Adventures itinerary includes historical gems like the quaint Alto Vista Chapel and the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, as well as a shipwreck dive and marlin fishing excursion. The three-day itinerary is also sprinkled with indulgent touches such as a trip to the Ritz-Carlton Spa, Aruba for the Misterio di Aloe body treatment featuring locally grown, hand-cut aloe to soothe and restore, and a sea-to-table, star-lit dinner on the beach. For ultimate bliss, pair with the hotel’s signature cocktail: a refreshing blend of rum, lime juice, triple sec, soda, and cadushi cactus puree.
Never miss a story. Sign up for NUVO’s weekly newsletter here.